glimpses of light, but the darkness not lost

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

1 Corinthians 15:28

Scripture is loaded with stories which can make you wonder. If we read the Bible as though it were flat, then we put it together like a jig saw puzzle. And what is often said is that one part is as legitimate as another, for example Jesus’s words not to resist evil and to turn the other cheek do not at all cancel out the violence in the Hebrew scriptures, but both somehow are equally legitimate, though inevitably contradictions won’t stand. Jesus himself did not allow such, rebuking his disciples for suggesting fire should come down and destroy the Samaritans who did not receive him, telling them they didn’t know by what spirit they were speaking.

There are things both in Scripture and in our lives which are broken and need redeemed. And that is not an easy process. But God is faithful, and we can actually help the process and reduce the pain and trouble if we commit ourselves as well as hold on to faith in God, that God will see everything through to the good end in Christ. That is not unlike the messes we see in Scripture, even including arguably either the accommodations or mistaken notions or projections we find there about God, what God is doing.

Everything really needs to be understood in term of the God who is love, who makes that love known which we find everywhere in Scripture, but is revealed fully only in Christ, and Christ on the cross. We have to read and see all of Scripture in that light, as well as all of our life in the same light as well. There are inevitable difficulties from simply living in the world, as well as from our own errors, mistakes, missteps, sins. God is out to redeem all.

What we need to do is to hang on by faith in spite of what we’re going through, what our experience is. To the extent that we do, we’ll begin to at least sense, and hopefully begin to experience what is the end of God’s purpose in Christ: complete, unmitigated love, with nothing whatsoever able to withstand that ultimately, and if we can only trust God, what we’ll more and more experience here and now, the same reality which will be ours and all of creation forever in the redemption and reconciliation of all things in Christ.

Something we not only look forward to, but begin to experience now, even with the inevitable even in part necessary difficulties we go through. In and through Jesus.

confirm your faith by following through with action

You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works.

James 2:22

James is referring to Abraham’s faith confirmed as it were in his obedience to God’s command to sacrifice his son, Isaac. That is an impossible one to wrap one’s head around. Key is to understand that this kind of faith does not depend on our own understanding. God helps our understanding, so it’s not like understanding is left behind. But again, it’s not our own understanding, not from our own reasoning.

When we have clarity, and a sense of what we need to do by faith, then we need to follow through in that, even if “a thousand screaming monkeys” might be yelling at us otherwise. In doing so, in the words of James, our faith is not passive, but active along with our works, indeed brought to completion by the works. Our faith might be good insofar as it goes, but may not be complete until we follow through with the action which corresponds to it.

As followers of Christ, we certainly want to live by faith. And that faith involves our entire lives, and every part of them. God will help us to have the understanding needed at each point and juncture of our lives. In and through Jesus.

trusting, not relying, acknowledging go together

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Yesterday I began to work on thoughts from this passage related to when life hits us hard in ways in which there seems no escape or good answer, in other words bringing in the impossible. Today along with some other thoughts I want to emphasize one point I did not mention yesterday, how we’re told to acknowledge God in all of our ways. That can be taken for granted somewhat, as the above passage was quoted in full yesterday as well, and to trust in the Lord with all of our heart, and not rely on our own insight should lead us to acknowledge the Lord in all of our ways. But it’s important to emphasize that, because we’re all to prone to believe, yet fail to really act on it.

We need to consider them all, what this Scripture calls us to do: Trust, don’t rely, acknowledge. To trust in God this way is radical for us. It involves a certain letting go. We don’t trust God only up to a point, then take over. We trust God without reservation, wholeheartedly. It is to enter into a certain realm and remain there. And frankly that is hard, at least for me. I inevitably gravitate to trying to figure everything out myself. It is hard to understand or find the balance. It’s not like a far eastern mystic assumption of total disengagement along with a kind of total merging. We do look at reality in the face for what it is, and we look for what is right, just, and good in harmony with love which is understood best in God’s love revealed in Jesus. But no matter what, our trust is in God, not in ourselves.

Then we’re told not to rely on our own insight, which I’ve already touched on. Our understanding and insight is rarely if ever perfect in this life, except for a special gift from God at a certain point. Otherwise, never perfect. This is why it’s a mistake for us to find rest in our own insight. Our own understanding is never foolproof. And why our true rest is found only in God, in our trust in the Lord.

This reminds me of another point which needs some emphasis. Notice that the passage makes it clear that receiving the blessing actually depends on us. If we don’t follow through with what we’re told to do here, then God’s blessing won’t come. Yes, only God can give the blessing: the straight, smooth paths. But for us to receive that, we have to trust, not rely, and acknowledge. It’s up to us.

Finally the missing link of yesterday’s post. If we fail to acknowledge God in all of our ways, then we also are failing to trust in God with all our hearts, and we will drift back to our own understanding. This is akin, I think to what James speaks about when he emphasizes works in telling us that faith without works is dead. We might think we’re trusting in God with our whole heart and not relying on ourselves, but unless we look to God in prayer, and seek to really depend on God in all of life, in every endeavor, then we’re really not. This is all linked together. What you really believe is not what you say you believe, but what you act on. “Yes, I trust in God, but I need to figure this out myself.” No. Instead something like: “I trust in the Lord, and I believe the Lord will help me through this, to find good counsel, to make a good decision, and to be at rest in that process, and in the end.” All the while realizing that this life will be uneven and messy to the end. Learning to find our rest in God in the midst of that.

Something I’m working on myself. In and through Jesus.

part of what honors God in our attitudes

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

It must have been “the evil day” for this pastor, but I remember decades back witnessing a pastor I respected lighting into a guy I was working with, really giving it to him when we were at his house to do some kind of lawn or tree care. And the guy just taking it, trying to explain a bit, but essentially just taking it. Something I’ll never forget.

Life is so full of quandaries and conundrums. Like it says in Ecclesiastes, the more you know, the more sorrow and trouble. I have often kind of envied those who are seem so happy go lucky, and don’t seem to worry about much of anything, who take everything pretty much in total stride. As for myself, I’m forever asking questions, doubting just about anything and everything, wanting the most firm answers I can get.

My pondering here is just how we can honor the Lord when we’re faced with a difficult dilemma, not knowing how to handle it. And I’m faced with the seeming reality that life is far from foolproof. Maybe it’s a problem with my expectations. After all, we’re promised that nothing at all can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8). But we’re absolutely not promised that those things that can’t separate us from God won’t be our experience.

What we need here is wisdom. And not just the wisdom from Proverbs in the above passage, though that is a good place to start. Of course the proper fear of God being basic to our existence as we’re also told in Proverbs.

The above passage, Proverbs 3:5-6 is helpful here because it’s about life in general, all of life so that every circumstance is included, even the most difficult ones. But what is told us in that passage needs to become more and more a part of who we are.

We’re told to trust in the Lord with all our heart, I take that to mean without reservation. And that we’re to acknowledge God in all our ways. I take that to mean that God is central in all we’re doing, so that even though we might have to ask all kinds of questions and investigate a situation, we seek God’s help in all of that, believing that God will see us and the situation through.

Not to rely on our own understanding or insight is an important point for me. I tend to want to get to the bottom of anything and everything. Are we doing the best we can? And can we trust the process along with the outcome to God? Those seem to me to be two good basic attitudes for us to have.

In the end we’re told that God will make our paths straight. The Hebrew word יָשָׁר (yashar) means “to make smooth; to make straight” (BDB). Somehow God will do that. If we just do what we’re told to do here. To make this the practice of our lives so that when the difficulties come, we will continue on this path. A part of honoring God in and through Jesus.

unhealthy doubt

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:5-8

God does not despise the one who struggles with doubt. The classic example of Thomas the doubter comes to mind. There is a gentle rebuke in our Lord’s dealing with him, but the Lord did not reject him.  Actually the raising of doubt can be an expression of faith. We see it throughout Scripture, Job being one prime example. Job along with many psalmists questions God, raises concerns, in essence they are honest to God.

What James is talking about here is fundamentally different. In the context it’s referring to doublemindedness, no longer really grappling with God, or taking God at God’s word. According to James, it isn’t necessarily that the doubter isn’t praying. But evidently it’s either an empty religious exercise, or becomes that since the one praying is not believing God will come through, not trusting God. It comes across to me as a kind of half hearted prayer in contrast to the healthy doubter who is fully engaged in their wrestling with God.

What I believe we can be assured of is that God will honor our sincere attempt to pray as James (and our Lord in the gospels) tells us to here. It’s not like we have to be perfect, though God can give us a certain faith during such times. We seek to be fully committed to God, open to God’s correction along the way. God will help us to grow in faith and offer the prayer of faith, giving us the needed wisdom we’re asking for, or whatever else we may request in God’s will. In and through Jesus.

wisdom breaking through

You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

Psalm 51:6

There is a kind of direct wisdom God wants to give us aside from Scripture. Those who can receive it are surely regularly in Scripture as a rule. And the information and formation from Scripture figure into this. And there may be some who are limited in their access to Scripture. This wisdom is taught directly from God in one’s “secret heart” as the psalmist puts it here.

Usually such wisdom is learned in the crush, even cruciformity of life. It is not something abstract, that we can just tuck away into our heads simply to know. No, it’s about life and for life, right on the ground where we live. And again it meets us in areas where we haven’t been wise, or where we especially are in need of wisdom.

It has a character about it that is strikingly different than the run of the mill, off the wall wisdom we have. That is not easy to define, but some characteristics give some clues. If one is in a hurry, in a near panic, then that’s a sign we’re thinking to act on our own wisdom. But if there’s a settledness which accompanies it, with not necessarily all the answers, but at the heart of it, a trust in God, that’s a sign that we’re beginning to receive the needed wisdom from God.

Something I can be much too slow at, but which I’m working on and learning. In and through Jesus.

just keep on trusting

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

“Keep on trucking” is an idiom to encourage people to go on with what they’re doing. Or a friend tells me and I think others at times: “Press on.” Here’s perhaps a more difficult one, because while we need to do it, our dependence is not on ourselves.

We’re told to trust in the Lord, to trust in God with all our heart. What does that mean? What does that look like? I think it means through thick and thin, whatever we’re experiencing, however down we may feel, whatever challenges we’re encountering, whatever discouraging thoughts come our way, we’re to trust, trust, and just keep on trusting in the Lord. Trusting in God’s words to us in Scripture. When we sense God’s voice speaking into our lives.

What does it mean to do this with all one’s heart? Who doesn’t love it when emotions rise, and we’re moved to do such and such? Depending on what it is, at least being moved means that we’re deeply touched, maybe to the core of our beings, perhaps entering into the suffering of others, or feeling the evil of injustice, anger rising in us. But feelings come and go. I doubt that such really effects much change.

How I prefer to see trusting in the Lord with all one’s heart is the idea of putting one’s self entirely into something. Not halfway, not three-quarters of the way. All the way, no holding back. What does that look like in terms of trust, and specifically, trusting God? I’m not sure. It involves experience, yes, but has to go deeper than that. It has to become a habit of our lives, what we do, and work into our very beings, so that is becoming more and more who we are. People who trust in God with no reservations. The Lord will help us. Remember the plea in the gospels: “Lord, I believe! Help me overcome my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24).

Part of what we aspire to in and through Jesus.

insecurity

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling place,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.

Psalm 91

Maybe there is no better passage of Scripture to help those of us who often for one reason or another feel insecure. But we need all of Scripture of course, along with seeking to process all of life. Life comes at us with all kinds of reasons to feel insecure. But God in Christ by the Spirit is present and with us to help us through whatever it is we might be facing, in fact through all of life.

We have to remember that God is our loving Parent, that God is indeed love (1 John 4), that God is for us (Romans 8). And this is the case no matter what we face, nothing being able to separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus (again, Romans 8).

But we don’t move away from the feeling of insecurity overnight. And frustratingly, we can fall back into it, after experiencing a sense of God’s peace and watch care over us. This will take time, but God wants us to learn to live more and more in a settled experience of God’s peace. Resting secure because our rest is in God. In and through Jesus.

when under siege: silence

When you are disturbed,[a] do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent.

Psalm 4:4

The context of this psalm is a faithful person or persons being verbally attacked with the implication of physical danger lurking somewhere behind (click above link for entire psalm). The psalm is attributed to David who certainly knew more than his share of such trouble. Most of us experience nothing like that, but given the time we’re in, there definitely is something of this in the air, evident largely in what people are saying, and sometimes in what some have done. And plenty of disturbance (and anger, see above footnote) can accompany that.

What we’re called to here is silence. In this day when our ears are filled with music and podcasts, the news and whatnot, that can be challenging. We’re better off to plug our ears during such difficulties and simply remain in meditative silence. According to this Scripture, the alternative is to sin. Somehow to figure things out ourselves, to get it over with ourselves, instead of casting ourselves on God.

In the midst of the tumult and settling despair, we need to silence ourselves and ponder. Not just something we do in an instant and it’s done. But what we do until it’s done. God will answer, giving us what we need. In and through Jesus.

the shepherd’s leading/guiding

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:1-3

What makes all the difference for the sheep? What is the difference between life and death for them? The shepherd. And specifically the care the shepherd takes of the sheep. And one important aspect of that: leading and guiding.

In our new hymnal, Voices Together, the Benediction for Morning Prayer reads:

God will guide us continually, and satisfy our needs in parched places, and we shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Amen.

Voices Together, 985

Notice that the shepherd leads, the shepherd does not drive the sheep or coerce them. They simple follow the shepherd’s lead. The shepherd goes before them. Jesus leads the way for us. Yes, by his example in trusting in his Father and following even to the point of the death of the cross. But clearing the way for us so that we can live in the same blessing in which he lives.

It’s vitally important for us, as Christ’s sheep to follow the lead of our Shepherd. The Spirit enables us to do that, along with Scripture. We need to be intent in simply following. Not going off and doing our own thing, which we’re ever so prone to be doing. As if we either have to figure it out, or have it figured out. That comes to a dead end, darkness, and finally, death. No, we move only with the Lord’s leading.

That will give us the light we need in our own darkness, in the darkness of this world. In and through Jesus.